Analysing trade-offs in land-use decision-making: Learning to use AHP as a tool - Overview

A free training course by Xiaoting Hou-Jones (IIED, UK) and Alan Renwick (Lincoln University, New Zealand)

Overview | Module 1Module 2 | Module 3





Land-use decisions have significant impacts on the environment and our well-being. As public awareness of those impacts increases and governments introduce more regulations and incentives for sustainable land management, land managers often need to consider and manage tricky trade-offs between competing land-use objectives (e.g. maximising profits versus biodiversity conservation).

Land management decisions often involve many trade-offs given the many competing uses for limited resource: for example, using land for timber, for conservation, or for agriculture production. In addition, many different stakeholders may use the same patch of land and have different priorities and preferences on how they wish the land to be used.

As populations grow and natural resources dwindle due to overexploitation and the impacts of climate change, there are increasing conflicts between different land-use objectives. Those making land-use decisions must increasingly make difficult choices and try to balance multiple social, environmental and economic goals. 

It is increasingly important for researchers, policy makers and other decision-makers to better understand and manage those trade-offs. Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) is a widely used multi-criteria analysis. It supports decision-makers to analyse trade-offs among multiple and competing objectives, and to make informed decisions that explicitly acknowledge those trade-offs.

This virtual training aims to help researchers learn how to use AHP in their research to better understand and support management of those important land use trade-offs. 

The training contains three modules: 

  • Module 1 provides an overview of AHP and helps you understand its use, as well as advantages and limitations in analysing trade-offs in land-use decision-making. 
  • Once you have gained a basic understanding of AHP, Module 2 helps you consider practical issues when designing your own research using AHP. The second module provides examples to illustrate those issues and provides practical guidance and tools on how to manage them, drawing on experiences of applying AHP to understand and support land-use decision-making in New Zealand, Ghana and Zambia.   
  • Once you are familiar with AHP in theory and practice, Module 3 assists you in developing your own research plan. 

Modules 1 and 2 include the following materials to complement your learning: 

  • Explainer videos; 
  • Selected open-access reading materials;
  • Guiding questions to test your knowledge and make the best use of each module.  

Module 3 includes some simple guiding questions and additional online resources to help you develop your own research plans based on the knowledge and skills you learnt in Modules 1 and 2

We welcome your feedback on the virtual training; please send your feedback and comments to  


This virtual training has been developed as part of the Sentinel project in collaboration with Lincoln University, New Zealand. 

Sentinel is an interdisciplinary research project seeking to address the challenge of achieving ‘zero hunger’ in sub-Saharan Africa, while at the same time reducing inequalities and conserving ecosystems. Sentinel is funded by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) programme for ‘Growing research capability to meet the challenges faced by developing countries’ (‘GROW’). Grant Ref: ES/P011306/1. 

Lincoln University’s contribution to this virtual training was funded by the New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment’s Our Land and Water National Science Challenge (contract C10X1507) as part of the Next Generation Systems Programme. The AHP calculations and consistency calculations used in the excel tool introduced in the virtual training are based on Goepel, K. D. (2018) ‘Implementation of an Online Software Tool for the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP-OS)’, International Journal of the Analytic Hierarchy Process, 10(3)

The virtual training draws on feedback from the following researchers who trialled the modules and applied AHP in Ghana and Zambia: Selase Adanu (University of Ghana), Maxwell Kwame Boakye (University of Ghana), and Jane Kwenye (Copperbelt University, Zambia).